Chasen Point

One extremely unsurprising reason KU football is excited for primetime

A blowout game puts a pair of Jayhawk fans to sleep in the stands at Memorial Stadium during homecoming against Texas Tech on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008.

A blowout game puts a pair of Jayhawk fans to sleep in the stands at Memorial Stadium during homecoming against Texas Tech on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008. by thad-allender

Lest we forget that athletes are human, too, the announcement of a 7 p.m. CT, primetime matchup featuring KU football and TCU on FOX this Saturday brought a little joy to the KU locker room.

Here's why.

The Jayhawks are coming off back-to-back-to-back-to-back 11 a.m. (CT, of course) kickoffs, starting at Ohio in a game that was technically played in the eastern time zone.

The Jayhawks' schedule on those days involved a 7 a.m. wakeup — which can be as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m. for players who require treatment — followed by a 7:30 a.m. offensive meeting and walkthrough. Then the players eat a meal and head to the stadium, all before 9 a.m. on a Saturday.

"Everyone's different. Some people like to sleep in, some people are early-morning risers," said quarterback Peyton Bender.

Anyone stand out in that second group?

"Not that I know of," Bender said with a laugh. "They kind of force us to be morning people, though."

It shouldn't come as any semblance of a shock that players relish the chance to sleep in.

It's also no excuse for the Jayhawks' performances over the last four weeks of the season, since their opponents have to wake up at the same time.

Still, the change is welcome.

"One thing that we've learned through our years is that you can't get them to take the rest on the front end. Kids just don't do it. Neither do we," said KU coach David Beaty. "They'll sleep in the morning, but they won't sleep at night. They're going to bed when they go to bed. That's just the way it is."

Some players handle the schedule better than others.

Redshirt junior Joe Dineen identified junior wideout Jeremiah Booker as someone who consistently brings energy no matter what time it is.

Dineen admittedly isn't much of a morning person himself, though he still manages to make it to the field on time.

"The thing with me is I get really nervous and I get anxiety so it's hard for me to sleep the night before a game anyways, let alone if I have to wake up early," Dineen said. "I'm not tired before the game, though. I'll tell you that. I get up and ready to go before the game. But maybe when I first get up I'm a little sleepy."

On the road, Dineen rooms with former Free State High teammate Keith Loneker Jr. — "Loud. Loud. Snores. Loud. Phone is loud," Dineen jokes of Loneker's morning habits — but that isn't where the biggest problems happen.

The night before a game, especially on the road, the coaches can just about guarantee players have their lights turned out by 10 or 10:30 p.m., depending on the schedule.

The rest of the week, however...

"It's critical," said defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. "That's where sometimes having older, mature kids is a little bit better. You know these guys in their first, second, even third year of college, it's still kind of fun for 'em."

The coaches address that very thing with the players. In addition to conversations about sleep and decision-making throughout the week, players can also read articles posted on the wall of the weight room with studies relating sleep to peak performance, reaction time and memory, according to Dineen.

That being said, the coaches aren't blind to the idea that college kids are going to be, well, college kids.

"You know what I mean," Bowen said with a smile. "You remember those first few years."

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Joel Embiid nearing return, 76ers to play in KC next Friday

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown is focused on October 18. Lawrencians may have an earlier date in mind.

On Thursday, former KU standout and current 76er Joel Embiid participated in full court 5-on-5 scrimmages with his team for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left knee in March. The team listed him as a full participant in practice, though it noted he'll be out for Friday's game against the Celtics.

So what's with the dates?

First, there's October 18, the day of the regular season opener for the 76ers this year. According to NBC Sports' Jessica Camerato, the goal for Embiid was to be ready to play in that game against the Wizards, which, by the way, will be televised on ESPN.

The second date, though, has a little more local meaning.

On Friday, October 13, Embiid and the 76ers will play an exhibition game against the Miami Heat at Sprint Center, meaning fans will get the chance to watch the former lottery pick in person some 40 miles east of Allen Fieldhouse — that is, if he plays.

"I would like to play preseason," Embiid said on Thursday, according to Camerato, "because last year I think it helped me a little bit just get in a groove."

Sure enough, Embiid appeared in seven preseason games last year, scoring in double figures in each of the last five.

Though he never played more than 20 minutes in any of those contests, Embiid was able to carry that momentum into the regular season. He broke out with a 20-point, 7-rebound, 2-block outing on opening night and impressed so much that despite only playing in 31 games he finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year.

"He's dominant and it's hard really, like, to find matchups," Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters on Thursday. "He comes in and he really does make an impact immediately on whatever we're doing."

None by Keith Pompey

So far, per Camerato, Embiid is on schedule with his rehab. If anything he might even be ahead of pace.

Brown noted on Thursday that Embiid's conditioning was better than expected, adding that the 7-footer "hasn't missed a beat lately."

Certainly he left his mark on the Sixers scrimmage, swatting away an attempted floater by J.J. Redick and knocking down a 3-pointer later on.

None by Keith Pompey

So where does that leave Embiid? Clearly he'd like to play sooner rather than later, and there's a lot for fans hopeful to watch him in person to be encouraged with.

But hey, even if you can't make it out for the game, there might be another way you can catch him live. It'll save you a little money on seats, though the plane ticket to Philadelphia might set you back a few hundred bucks.

None by Sports Illustrated

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Bill Self looking for more inside from Billy Preston

Blue Team forward Billy Preston goes behind the back as he makes a move against Red Team guard Tyshawn Taylor during a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

Blue Team forward Billy Preston goes behind the back as he makes a move against Red Team guard Tyshawn Taylor during a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center. by Nick Krug

Billy Preston’s greatest hits at Late Night weren’t exactly what Bill Self wanted to see. Let's just say, he preferred Lil Yachty's.

Playing for the Crimson squad in the scrimmage, the 6-foot-10 freshman had his moments. He knocked down a pair of three-pointers and flashed a couple of solid dribble moves.

So what’s the issue?

“I said he could be (a lottery pick). There’s no question he could be,” Self said. “But you know, him playing away from the basket is obviously not going to help his stock.”

Preston scored nine points on 3-for-7 shooting in the scrimmage. He led his team with six rebounds and also notched a block on a Mitch Lightfoot three-point attempt.

There were some bumps and bruises — like when he fouled Devonte’ Graham probably a little too hard for a Late Night scrimmage or wiped out attempting a putback dunk and ended up on his back — but there were several moments of comfort, too, like when he flashed a smooth floater early on and a quick spin off the bounce to draw a foul.

“You can see even in the little bit of bad ball tonight that he’s really skilled,” Self said. “If he’s able to put it all together, there’s not many guys out there more talented in the freshman class.”

Senior guard Devonte’ Graham echoed that sentiment, noting Preston appeared more confident on the floor on Saturday than he was throughout the summer. Graham added that he’s stayed on the freshman about being aggressive and staying in attack mode — "not hesitating," as he put it.

But let’s address the elephant in the room.

One name that wasn’t spoken by any of the coaches or players on Saturday was that of Carlton Bragg, who transferred to Arizona State following a tumultuous year on and off the court.

At a listed weight of 240 pounds, Preston is bigger than Bragg was as a freshman. He’s also projected to show more on the inside and should have less of an issue adjusting to that type of role, though it will take some time.

Self also said on the Late Night broadcast he is comfortable with Preston shooting about two threes per game, so he isn’t trying to completely go away from Preston's guard-like skill set.

Still, to find an example of the warning Self issued, you don’t have to look far.

Here's a quote from Landen Lucas last season:

“(Bragg) is just adjusting his game, knowing that he’s very talented outside, but that we need him every now and then, depending on match-ups and personnel in the game, to step inside,” Lucas said. “Coach knows what he wants from him, and I’m sure during these next couple of weeks of practice he’ll make sure that Carlton’s on the same page.”

And here's one from Self in January:

“There's no question C.B. may say that's the way he thinks,” Self said. “But that's not in his core. He's always been a guy that scored the ball pretty easy and shot a lot of jumpers and those sorts of things, which is fine. There's nothing wrong with that.”

Now let's go forward to Saturday.

Here was Self's response, in full, the first time he was asked specifically about Preston:

“I said he could be (a lottery pick). There’s no question he could be. He’s big. He’s 6-foot-10. You can see even in the little bit of bad ball tonight that he’s really skilled. He can put it down. He’s an above average passer, but he’s a pretty good shooter. Got range, but, you know, him playing away from the basket is obviously not going to help his stock because he’s got to be able to rebound his position. And that’s the thing that he’s got to do. He can play facing, but he’s got to be able to score back to the basket, and he’s got to be able to rebound in traffic. Those are things that will determine whether or not he’s able to be what you mentioned. But if he’s able to put it all together, there’s not many guys out there more talented in the freshman class.”

Here's another comment he made:

“...Dedric Lawson didn’t get within 10 feet of the paint. Billy Preston didn’t either. You’re never going to win that way.”

And another:

“We should be a good shooting team. I think there’s a lot to like, it’s just there’s not much depth. You just don’t know if you’re going to have an inside presence on both ends. But I think we can get our guys to do that.”

That’ll be the challenge for Preston in the 2017-18 season.

It never worked for Bragg. Then a sophomore, the former five-star recruit was taken out of the starting lineup early in the year and never looked comfortable when he had to fill in at the five.

It may or may not work with Preston — only time will tell.

But if there’s one thing that might help his cause, it’ll be heeding the words of Self and Lucas last year, or even those of Graham on Saturday. After all, the message really hasn't changed that much over time.

“He’s just got to get the feel for what coach likes,” Graham said. “And we’ve got practice Tuesday, so (he’ll) get it started.”

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Dancing with the ‘Hawks: What to expect — and what not to — from the men’s basketball team at Late Night

Men's basketball players Clay Young (left) and Malik Newman (right) work on their dance moves alongside Rock Chalk Dancers Katie Lomshek (left) and Kendall Zellars (right).

Men's basketball players Clay Young (left) and Malik Newman (right) work on their dance moves alongside Rock Chalk Dancers Katie Lomshek (left) and Kendall Zellars (right). by Photo courtesy of @KUHoops

Author's note: This is intended to give some insight into the dancing process at Late Night in the Phog, but don't worry — what you read here is just a taste. There are still plenty of surprises to look forward to.

Clay Young didn’t want to continue anymore.

No, he wasn’t tired. The 45-minute practice paled in comparison to the rigorous work of boot camp and fell well short of a typical three-hour practice his newfound ‘coaches’ participated in. But after a mix-up with choreography led to Young dropping his dance partner, the JUCO transfer was a little frazzled.

“He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.’ He didn’t even want to finish the dance,” said Keaten Olson, then a KU freshman and first-year member of the Rock Chalk Dancers. “I was like, ‘No, keep going. Keep going.’ ”

As Olson recalled, she was going over Young’s shoulder, and he was supposed to grab her arms. He didn’t and she fell straight toward the ground, laughing as she popped up, ready to get back at it.

Olson, who appreciated the comedy of the moment — and the video, which she’s since saved on her computer — took it all in stride. After all, nobody said the task at hand was going to be easy.

“They’re used to lifting weights, not girls,” she joked.

Some more than others.

The ringleaders —

Devonte’ Graham is expected to have a big role on the men’s basketball team this year, but he might also have the best moves.

Katie Lomshek, a senior Rock Chalk Dancer who worked with Graham in advance of this year’s Late Night, said the senior guard has impressed her in a number of areas.

“I’ve seen him over all four years ... become so comfortable with what he’s doing,” Lomshek said. “Especially since this year with the battle, when blue is competing against us, he’s up in their face, trying to battle back and get us to get more hype for when it's our next song.”

If there’s one thing the dancers agree on, though, it’s that there’s plenty of talent — and excitement — for the routines this time around.

Perhaps no battle will be bigger than the one-on-one match-up of Graham and junior Lagerald Vick, who Olson said was her pick for best dancer.

“Insanely talented at dance,” Olson said. “Honestly, Lagerald Vick is so good. I didn’t really notice him last year, … but Lagerald is on my side. He is such a talented dancer.”

He's also got the cerebral part of it down.

“I started choreographing and he was like, ‘No, no, no, no. You gotta do that part slow because then it really builds up and the fans are going to be so impressed,'" Olson added. "So he was like teaching me dance moves and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ I think he’s really confident with his dance moves.”

Outside of those two, Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe should be a fun player to watch, though the original plan that called for him to leap through the air and over walk-on Chris Teahan was vetoed.

Big man Udoka Azubuike should also get the chance to show off his moves with a solo performance, as he'll look to make a big leap — at least as a dancer — from his freshman to his sophomore year.

"Our practices have been so fun," Olson said. "Last year it took a while to break them out of their comfort zone. This year, kind of from the start, they were throwing out ideas."

The ideas — (Warning: Spoiler Alert)

Without giving too much away, the theme of this year's dance for the men's basketball team, first suggested by marketing, will be a dance battle between two halves of the team.

Within that, though, there have been plenty of ideas from the players — some good and some bad.

One idea, from red-shirt sophomore Malik Newman, had some promise.

“I don’t know if this idea is going to go all the way through," Lomshek said, "but I know Malik on our side wants the players to walk in with masks. Like a Jabbawockeez mask."

Some ideas, however, are not so great.

For example, an unnamed player suggested his team begin the dance by surrounding the dancers in a circle and wobbling onto the court before backing away for the big reveal.

“The idea didn’t go very far,” Olson said. “It obviously wouldn’t have worked, but I just think it’s so cool how they’re so into it.”


How the loss of Isi Holani affects KU’s defensive line

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) is stopped at the line as Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke (12) throws to a receiver during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) is stopped at the line as Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke (12) throws to a receiver during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

The KU defense has already had its fair share of problems in 2017.

The young secondary has been exposed by a trio of MAC quarterbacks, while a pass rush featuring the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year has been widely held in check.

Then there's the injury bug, something that hits just about every team at some point and has, for the second straight year, ended the season of a starter in KU's front seven.

"Isi Holani, unfortunately his injury is going to be a season-ending injury," said KU coach David Beaty. "He injured his knee in the game a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately he's not going to be available for the rest of the year."

The silver lining, Beaty noted, is fairly obvious.

Holani will get the chance to return for a redshirt senior season in 2018 and should help mitigate the void left by the potential early departures of Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong. But there's also the other side.

Holani, along with J.J. Holmes, impressed the coaches throughout the fall. So much so, in fact, that it helped afford KU the luxury to shift the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Wise to the outside of the line on occasion, creating a rather physically imposing defensive line configuration.

"I thought it was going to be a really big year for (Holani)," Beaty said.

But while KU won't be able to go with that specific pairing anymore, Beaty seems confident others can step up.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, the coach mentioned Jacky Dezir, DeeIsaac Davis and, of course, Holmes and Wise as the players that could continue to fill in on the inside.

"In a lot of years, boy, (it'd) really devastate you, really devastate you," Beaty said. "Luckily, fortunately, we actually have some depth at the D-tackle area."

It hasn't played out quite as well so far.

The Good

Even though the numbers haven't been pretty, the KU defensive line has had its moments. Just look at this series from Week 3.

Wise and Armstrong are the edge rushers, while Dezir and Holmes are slotted inside. As the play progresses, both Ohio's left guard and tackle focus on Holmes and the right guard tries to pull around the line and block Armstrong.

Instead, Armstrong singlehandedly blows up the play.


Even though the running back was trying to get outside on the counter, Armstrong’s quick step inside forced the right guard to try and come back and grab him. That opened up space for Joe Dineen to burst past the line of scrimmage and ultimately chase Dorian Brown down from behind.

The whole back end of the KU defense actually does a pretty solid job of staying disciplined, too. Tyrone Miller Jr., Mike Lee and Shakial Taylor are all around where Brown is taken out of bounds.

And that discipline continued into second down.


The defensive line configuration is the same here, and the play is simple enough. It’s an option, so the quarterback can hand the ball off to the running back or keep it himself if nothing opens up.

Unsurprisingly, Wise garners a ton of attention at the edge rusher spot. Two Ohio linemen come over and basically hug him to keep him from being involved in the play. Dezir and Holmes do a solid job maintaining the line of scrimmage and not getting pushed back and linebacker Osaze Ogbebor fills the remaining space up front.

Since there’s no hole for the running back, quarterback Nathan Rourke has to keep the ball. On the other side of the line, Dorance Armstrong and Joe Dineen are waiting to bring him down for a loss.

"Me and Daniel, we've been together since the start of this thing," Armstrong said. "The more comfortable you are with somebody, the more trust you have in them. And there's no doubt that I really trust Daniel."

And it doesn’t work without that trust.

The very next play, KU shifts its alignment, moving Wise to the inside of the line and swapping Dezir out for Josh Ehambe.

The Jayhawks blitz, but the Bobcats actually have more blockers (seven) than the Jayhawks do pass rushers (six).


The extra blocker on the right side of the offensive line does a decent job trying to help block Wise while forcing Ogbebor to the outside, but once he commits, Wise is left one-on-one with the right tackle, who he blows by.

In the meantime, Ehambe draws the attention of the right guard and Holmes plows his way through a double-team, setting up what happens next.

Wise is first into the backfield, forcing Rourke to step up in the pocket as he applies pressure. Holmes comes away with the sack, and even if he hadn't, Ehambe was there to finish off the play.


Simple enough... at least in theory.

The Bad

Not all of the Ohio touchdowns were on the KU defensive line. The secondary was picked apart by Ohio's quarterbacks, and even when KU was able to dial up the pressure, it only took a second or two for the ball to come out.

Still, KU was in the game in the third quarter. After cutting the lead to 11, the Jayhawks had the chance to hold the Ohio defense to a field goal, but needed to come up with a stand as the Bobcats had the ball at the eight-yard line.

Holmes wasn't in on the first-down play and Holani wasn't available for the game, so Davis and Dezir were the two interior linemen. It didn't go so well.


The line did an OK job of not getting pushed back, but there was no penetration or disruption or any sort of resistance to keep Ohio’s A.J. Ouellette from running from the right hashmark at the 10-yard line to the corner of the endzone on the opposite side of the field untouched.

This play didn't fall on any one player, but if Davis was able to push his man back at all, Ouellette would've had to take a wider route and Lee would've had the chance to catch him near the line of scrimmage.

The same goes for Wise, but with the tight end having the sole job to keep him inside, it really fell on Davis to win that one-on-one matchup enough for someone else to come in and make the tackle.

Here’s an example of what it might have looked like if he had.


In this play from the season opener against SEMO, Wise and Armstrong are the edge rushers with Holani and Holmes on the inside.

From the snap, Holani shoves the right guard deep into the backfield and actually into the path of both the running back and his lead blocker, tight end Logan Larson.

"Isi is a guy that you'd love to have there because he's a big A-gap body," Beaty said. "You like to have that big old rear-end right there in that A-gap and it's hard to move."

Because of the narrow running lane, Larson isn't able to get a solid block on Joe Dineen, and Dineen instead drives him back into the path of the running back. From there, Lee comes up to the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle.

Things worked just as smoothly on the next play.


The configuration here is a little different. Armstrong and Ehambe are the edge rushers, while Wise joins Holani on the inside.

Holani doesn't blow things up by himself, but he is able to shove the guard back a couple steps. Armstrong does his part, getting in the way in case the running back tries to bounce outside and Wise finishes the play off.


Now, it's worth pointing out the level of competition has gone up since Week 1. But KU hasn't been able to get that same level of penetration consistently against MAC opponents, and that doesn't bode well as things figure to get even tougher with the start of Big 12 play looming.

If things don't improve, it may end up costing the Jayhawks' one of their best defensive assets.

Wise's versatility filling in at different spots on the defensive line has been a wrinkle that has aided the pass run and earned him some early honors as well. Pro Football Talk named him to the Big 12 team of the week with a grade of 86.1 against Ohio.

But while Wise's speed and track background — "I've never seen a guy with his body size be able to move as fast and as quick as he does," Armstrong said — creates problems for opponents, KU may be forced to keep him inside if the defensive tackles behind Holmes can't step up.

That being said, the coaches maintained their confidence in the line throughout the week, even if, as defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said, Holani has left a big void to fill.

"It definitely does hurt. Isi was doing some really good things for us and allowed us another big body in the middle. And he was playing well," Bowen said. "The combination of him and J.J. in the middle was something that we were excited about doing and keeping Daniel on the end and having that bigger package.

"There are some other guys that just have to step up and replace those reps."

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How KU football addresses one of its most glaring issues

Central Michigan defensive back Tyjuan Swain rips the ball away from Kansas receiver Quan Hampton for an interception on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Central Michigan defensive back Tyjuan Swain rips the ball away from Kansas receiver Quan Hampton for an interception on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

It's no secret turnovers have been a massive issue for the Kansas football team. And it's been that way for quite some time.

The Jayhawks have held the regrettable distinctions of...

  • Leading all of FBS with 36 turnovers in 2016
  • Committing two or more turnovers in 16 straight games
  • Failing to win the turnover battle in each of their last nine road games

KU coach David Beaty has spoken at length about the turnover issues several times in the past.

He was asked about them again at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and noted that while the road-losing streak, which sits at a whopping 41 games, has been out of his mind, the turnover issues certainly have not been.

"Well, I've said all the other things. I've already talked to you about every drill that could have been created. Anything that's ever been done, we've done, and we've done it twice on Sunday," Beaty said. "We've studied with the Cowboys, we've studied with the Rams, we've studied with Seattle. I mean, just everywhere we can go trying to prevent that, right? That's the death of you in a football program."

Putting aside the 22 interceptions Kansas threw last year — a mark that ranked 126th out of 128 teams — and the four that new quarterback Peyton Bender has already thrown this year — no quarterback in FBS has more — the 14 fumbles KU lost last season were a massive issue, and it's one the team has attempted to thwart with just about everything, even clothing.

"It's a lot more difficult than people think to keep that ball up high and tight. But it's a learned trait," Beaty said. "When we toss them a pair of socks, they've got to tuck it. Doesn't matter what we throw them, that thing better be tucked. Wrist has to be above the elbow, back nose has to be covered, and that front nose ought to be gripped. That ball never comes away."

As amusing as it might seem, the players have at least taken to the strategy.

Junior wideout Jeremiah Booker, one of the team's captains, says he understands the reasoning for the drill, which Beaty reminds the players of during every practice.

Booker has also caught himself practicing his ball security outside the football complex, namely when his instincts as an athlete start to take over.

"High and tight. It's with anything and everything, whether it's a pencil or something," Booker said. "When I'm relaxing, not really, but if I'm rushing to class, I catch myself like (clutching) my water bottle or something."

Fellow wideout Steven Sims, who was limited in the Jayhawks' last game with a right-ankle injury, is another who has taken to this strategy, though he's hardly been part of the problem.

Sims has been charged with one lost fumble some 20-plus games into his college career, which came on a late drive of a 43-7 blowout loss to Memphis back in 2016.

With the game already out of reach and KU having already committed five turnovers on the day, Sims caught a pass down the left sideline and dove for a first down. At the same time, a Memphis defender dove at Sims and managed to knock the ball loose about an instant before he hit the ground.


Regardless, Sims is as sure-handed as just about anyone on the team.

That's in part why he's back returning punts this year. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who handled the punt return duties for much of 2016, is not back with the program, but he had already been removed from that spot on several occasions after a host of lost fumbles and muffed punts.

As for Sims, he takes ball security pretty seriously.

"Yeah they'll throw anything at you, a water bottle, anything they can find. You have to look it in and tuck it like it's a football," Sims said. "I'll always hold my imaginary ball. Like I'll be doing moves and things while I'm walking through a crowd. I'll be juking students and things like that. That's just how I am. I'm working on my game 24-7."

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Why Ben Johnson might prefer a second chance to a first impression

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) looks over his shoulder while running for the end zone during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) looks over his shoulder while running for the end zone during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Some players develop a seamless chemistry from the first time they meet. That was not the case for Ben Johnson and Peyton Bender.

In fact, the first time the senior tight end laid eyes on his new quarterback, he never expected to catch a pass from him — at least on a football field.

“Peyton?” Johnson said, starting to laugh. “My first time meeting Peyton I thought he was a baseball player.”

As the story goes, Johnson walked up to a building on campus and saw Bender and his brother outside.

Locked out of the building, both Bender and Johnson tried to get in with their codes and then walked down to another door in an unsuccessful attempt to get inside.

At that point, Bender took action, pulling out his cellphone to make a call. As Johnson recalled, the two had a brief back and forth leading to the realization that the person standing next to him might be an important one to remember.

“Are you calling your academic advisor or something?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah, I’m calling Shanda,” Bender said, referencing Shanda Hayden, KU football’s academic and career counselor.

“Oh, shoot. Are you a football player?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah,” Bender said. “I’m the new quarterback.”

Since then, the two have worked on their chemistry and the results have shown on the field.

In the Jayhawks’ 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, Johnson caught three passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, making it by far his best collegiate game since joining the program.

But as was noted after the game — by both Johnson and KU coach David Beaty — it could’ve been even better.

“If he’d have run the route on the first play,” Beaty said, “he might have scored another touchdown.”

The first play

So let’s take a look at what David Beaty was talking about.

On its first offensive play from scrimmage, KU split four receivers out wide with Ben Johnson attached at the top of the line. The plan was for Johnson to start outside and get behind the linebacker. Then he would open up over the middle of the field with the hope being that the safeties would be occupied with the outside receivers.

“Oh, they were gone. They were gone,” said Johnson, watching the play unfold on a computer screen. “It would have been a touchdown. No question. Yep.”

Simple enough. Only it wasn’t.

With the linebacker so far up on the line of scrimmage, Johnson thought he could push him outside and then slip by him down the middle of the field. In theory it wasn’t a terrible idea, but Johnson admitted he should’ve just “jabbed him inside and then broke out.”


Looking at the GIF, you can almost see the moment Bender made up his mind to abandon that route and throw short to Jeremiah Booker. It’s right after he realizes Johnson isn’t going to be in the right spot, having gone to the inside of the linebacker rather than the outside.

It's also worth noting, the SEMO defensive back reacted pretty quickly to Bender in his attempt to get into the passing lane. If he had been just a step or two quicker, he might’ve even had a chance to intercept the pass, and all when the play probably should've ended up as a touchdown in the first place.

A second chance

Even though it only gained a few yards on the first attempt, the play itself actually proved quite effective. So it shouldn’t have been any surprise when the Jayhawks went back to it in the second half.


This time Johnson broke the right way and got behind the linebacker. Once again, the safety was occupied by the streaking receiver, and Johnson was able to slip down the middle of the field.

The straight-on view is even more telling.


After getting behind the linebacker, Johnson had plenty of space to make the catch and sprint down the field untouched. And the result was not only a 57-yard touchdown, but Johnson’s first ever 50-yard catch and 90-yard receiving game.

"It felt good, but at the same time I left a lot of play on the table," Johnson said. "I'm hungry. I want to go get it."

Reply 4 comments from Tom Keegan Jim Stauffer Titus Canby Brett McCabe

KU football challenge: Predict the 2017 season

Kansas head coach David Beaty smiles as he walks across the field during the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty smiles as he walks across the field during the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

With Kansas football's season opener against Southeast Missouri State less than a week away, here's your chance to test your knowledge against the staff.

At the bottom of this page you'll find a list of 35 questions about the team, players and upcoming season. Some of them are pretty self-explanatory...

Will KU football score 50 points in a game? Who will record the first catch of the season?

Others may require a little more thought...

Which total will be higher: Mike Lee interceptions or Peyton Bender rushing touchdowns? Who will record more sacks: Dorance Armstrong + Daniel Wise or the rest of the team?

Perhaps a little luck, too...

What color will David Beaty's hat be for the opener? Predict the coin toss for the first game.

The challenge for you is to fill out the form and see how you stack up against other KU football fans, as well as the staff. We'll be compiling the results throughout the season and will post some of the leaders at the end of the year.

And if you need a little help, the staff will be giving their picks on our new podcast, which gets started later this week. Make sure you're following along with on Twitter and Facebook so you don't miss any of it.

Reply 3 comments from Shorte3355 Michael Maris Bryce Landon

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